Sunday, 2 October 2011
It happened a long time ago, some centuries ago in fact. It seems that a large bronze statue of Neptune was commissioned by the King of France. A new palace was being built, the Luxembourg Gardens were being laid out. Fountains using statues that were meant to impress the people and show the grandeur of the King's court.
Therefore it seemed natural that a fountain showing the Roman God of the Sea should be created. The King was greatly impressed by the model of the fountain. He insisted that the Neptune fountain would be the centre of the Gardens. The maker of the fountain struggled to create the moulds and after the first casting the bronze cracked. The maker stood in the foundry and wept. The foundry men stood and considered the problem, for they did not fret. They thought about the heat, the moulds were inspected in detail, but nothing could be found to be the problem. They stood around the foundry discussing what might be wrong, scratching their heads and wondering what they could do.
As they stood and pondered the problem a little man entered the foundry and approached Monsieur Du Fer the maker and foundry owner. The little man wore a tall black hat and his green eyes sparkled. Little tufts of fiery red hair sprouted from beneath the hat and his eyebrows were red and bushy too. He bowed to Monsieur Du Fer.
"The Neptune Fountain looks likely to be unfinished in time for the opening of the Gardens, Monsieur. Perhaps I can help. I have relatives who know all about the working of metals and can create your fountain in short order. All I would ask is that you give to me the first living thing that meets you when you arrive home this evening," he said.
Now Monsieur Du Fer had read many faery tales to his daughter so he was aware that something dreadful might happen should she rush out to greet her father before anyone else. He tried to negotiate with the little man, who remained adamant. Monsieur Du Fer realised he had no choice. He agreed and shook hands on the deal as they did in those days.
Now among the foundry men was a young man called Pierre who, though he dared not speak of it to his employer, was deeply in love with Mademoiselle Du Fer. He had run errands to the house of his boss and met the charming and elegant Mademoiselle Constance. Indeed, Monsieur Du Fer called him and asked him to go to his house and bid his daughter to stay in her room when he came home and to send out the dog.
Pierre did exactly as he was told, blushing furiously at Constance's charming manners. That her hair was the colour of chestnuts and her eyes like blue diamonds with the mouth soft and sweet as a rose did not help. He stammered out his master's instructions and told her why.
"Oh how exciting!" Constance exclaimed.
She had longed to meet the faeries due to the tales of the Countess D'Aulnoy read to her by her father and mother when she was younger. Still, she like her father knew that she might be spirited away never to see her family or friends again. However she could not bear the thought of sending out her dog. She told Pierre that she would think of something and kissed him for his kindness. Pierre managed, to his credit to walk out of the house and feeling somewhat as if he were walking on air managed to return to the foundry. It seemed however that the little man had bid all the foundry men to go home and that they should all be paid for the privilege. Naturally they were only too happy to obey. The life of a foundry man was hard and hot and the weather outside was delightful. Monsieur Du Fer had waited for his youngest foundry man and paid him the money the little man had given him. He noticed then Pierre's state of being and a wicked thought entered his head.
The young foundry man was not wealthy and not fit for his darling Constance to wed. But should he be the first person to meet his employer that evening then the young man would most likely never be seen again. But how was he to engineer such an event? He could not think how to do it and now Pierre was leaving him.
Monsieur Du Fer wandered about the city until he came to a coffeehouse. There he sat talking with friends, constantly thinking about how he might ensure the removal of Pierre by the little man. As for Pierre, he took his money and divided it. Half he would save and half would feed him for a month on a little bread and whatever else he might get. As he walked through the poorer streets of Paris towards his meagre lodgings in Montmartre an old woman appeared ahead of him and begged him for a little money for bread. Pierre was loath to give up what little money he had, but he looked at the old woman and thought he might survive a month on less than she might.
"I have little myself grandmother, but you're welcome to it, what little there is," he told her and gave her the money.
She took it and thanked him before grasping his arm with her bony hand and kissing him.
"Kindness is always rewarded my dear," she told him and hurried away.
I have the other half of my money at least, so I shall not starve for a while, Pierre thought. He trudged up the hill towards his home and up the stairs to his little room. He was so tired he fell on his bed and slept.
Monsieur Du Fer wandered around all day trying to work out how he might get Pierre to be the first person to meet him when he arrived home that evening when an idea came to him. He sent a boy to Pierre's address and told him to meet him at his house in the Rue St Honore. Pierrre, did not suspect anything and having been awoken went to meet his employer. He had tidied himself up as best as he could so that Constance should notice him, but when he arrived he found that one of the King's inspector's Monsieur Dauchon was there already. Dauchon had hatched a plan to blackmail Monsieur Du Fer into giving Constance to him to wed. He was a fat, apparently agreeable gentleman with sleepy looking eyes and a heart of pure venality. He was offhand with Pierre and showed the young man by all manner of sly comments and gestures that he would rather Pierre wasn't there.
The young foundry man became so distracted and miserable that he went out to meet Monsieur Du Fer by the gate of the house. Evening was apace. Carriages took gentlemen home from the Bourse. Ladies home from their shopping and their various enterprises. Paris was busy preparing for the evening. A little later, Monsieur Du Fer arrived and Pierre went to meet him. Du Fer shook hands with Pierre and told him that he hoped the young man harboured no affections for Mademoiselle Constance. His blushes at this remark told Du Fer that the young man harboured all affections for Mademoiselle Constance though he had never intimated that he would take them further.
"Go home young man and find someone nearer to your own status in life," Monsieur Du Fer told him.
Pierre shook with emotion but nodded and strode away, his heart snapped and tears springing to his eyes. He turned again towards the hill of Montmartre but as he came up the hill a carriage with red and green livery stopped beside him and he was told,
"Get in sir!"
Pierre, so overcome with despair did not care if he died and got into the carriage. Opposite him sat a beautiful woman with hair the colour of fire and eyes as green as a cat's. Beside her sat a red-haired gentleman with green sparkling eyes.
The next morning, the Neptune Fountain was discovered fully made and gleaming in the foundry. It was a fine piece of work and much admired by the men and by Monsieur Du Fer who noticed that Pierre was absent. The men carefully packed up the fountain and it was removed to the Luxembourg Gardens to be connected. It was beautifully connected and began to work perfectly. The King was most pleased with it, though he noticed Monsieur Du Fer seemed unhappy. Dauchon had done his work and Du Fer was now left to wonder if he would have done better to meet Dauchon first that evening.
The grand opening of the Luxembourg Gardens was to be held in three days time and the workmen still laboured to finish everything. Monsieur Du Fer took his foundry men and continued working on the next order. No more was heard of Pierre and Monsieur Du Fer was forced to gather Constance's dowry and to arrange her wedding to the inspector Dauchon. He had told Constance of the wedding and she had locked herself in her bedchamber in horror. She refused to see anyone at all.
"I would sooner die than marry that fat simpering creature!" she had declared.
Monsieur Du Fer agreed with her, but Dauchon had suggested that faults might be found in the fountain should not he not be married to Constance within three days.
On the day of the opening of the Luxembourg Gardens, Constance was to be married to Dauchon. The wedding was to take place after the opening of the Gardens in the morning. It did not happen for this reason.
As Monsieur Du Fer was continuing his bronze casting, every piece since the Neptune Fountain cracked and fell apart. Monsieur Du Fer was mad with grief and despair. But one morning he came into the foundry ready to pay off the men and shut up the foundry when an elegant gentleman entered the foundry and asked if he might buy it.
"I shall of course require your foundry men and if you would be happy to manage the foundry I should be grateful," the gentleman said.
At the first word the gentleman spoke, Du Fer recognised Pierre. But Pierre had been transformed. Now he clearly was a man of wealth and elegance, not the poor, grimy foundry man he had been. Monsieur Du Fer refused and answered that every piece was ruined since the Neptune Fountain.
"Kindness was not rewarded by kindness, monsieur," Pierre answered and left.
The opening of the Gardens was a grand affair. The King himself was there with all his courtiers in all their finery. Dauchon stood with the Head of Works smiling at the thought of his young bride to be. But as the King arose to pronounce the Gardens open, the statue of Neptune seemed to shiver in the dry summer air. The horses of his chariot tossed their manes and raised their heads and Neptune arose in his chariot and raised his trident over his head. Everyone was silent with shock.
"Monsieur Dauchon must come with me," Neptune thundered.
The King was about to protest when the Head of Works nodded to three of his burly workmen and Dauchon was propelled forwards towards the fountain and thrown in to the water. Almost immediately Dauchon changed shape. His flailing arms became scrawnier and his fingers webbed. His legs too became scrawnier and his hat fell from his head. His high scream deepened until a large toad was sitting in the fountain. Neptune stepped from his chariot and took the toad in his great hand. Then he sank beneath the waves of the fountain and was never seen again. Instead the Du Fer Foundry provided an angel to hold the reins of the chariot. Pierre had visited the Du Fer house during the grand opening and spoken to Constance. He declared that he loved her and if she would have him, he would be honoured to marry her.
Smart young woman that she was Constance had negotiated several concessions first and they were wed that afternoon at a ceremony that also included Pierre becoming the owner of the Foundry.